Some preliminary clarification for trainspotters: While several of these bands’ members have roots in Washington, DC’s post-punk community, the Circus Lupus/Antimony/Las Mordidas/Monorchid family tree is the least complicated to document in terms of line-up similarity and stylistic evolution. But the bands that can be traced from these branches (Ignition, Gray Matter, Unrest, Embrace, The Warmers, Bells Of, Beefeater, Fidelity Jones et al.) are manifold.
Formed in 1990 in Madison, Wisconsin, Circus Lupus relocated to DC in ’91, replacing original bassist Reg Schrader with Seth Lorinczi in the process. The quartet’s debut album was a blast of energy in a cynical time, proving to graying punks and college DJs alike that punk rock beyond Fugazi still had the power to raise the hairs on more than a few necks. Crediting the attitude of the Fall (among others) as inspiration, Circus Lupus vocalist Chris Thomson had attitude to spare. Check his Mark E. Smith-like delivery — an extra syllable here, a non sequitur there. Stinging like a boil on the Jesus Lizard’s rump, Thomson, Lorinczi, guitarist Chris Hamley and drummer Arika Casebolt often seemed to be playing against one another in a race to get to the finish line. By 1993’s caustic, densely angular Solid Brass, they had reached it. Circus Lupus’ breakup yielded two short-lived offshoots: Las Mordidas, Thomson’s one-single groove-punk quartet; and Antimony, a more complex vehicle for Hamley, Lorinczi and Casebolt. Hamley’s often-unsuccessful attempts to sing while playing mind-bogglingly intricate guitar parts were the band’s weakness (and allegedly their downfall); the music on Phantom Itch is a powerful extension of Circus Lupus’s thorny dynamism.
The Monorchid reunited Thomson and Hamley, this time with guitarist Andy Cone and the economical rhythm section of bassist Andy Coronado and drummer Tom Allnutt. Delivering a bigger impact with fewer punches than its predecessors, the Monorchid still circles the spastic-rock axis but places more emphasis on the rock side. Cone and Hamley’s jagged lines and expert use of counterpoint create audio Spirograph drawings over Coronado and Allnutt’s kinked foundation. Thomson sounds as fevered as ever; his lyrics, though no less cryptic than in Circus Lupus, are more concise, hitting their targets (phonies, the jaded, hangers-on) on the first run.
The Monorchid’s ’95 debut single for Lovitt practically screams out of the grooves; it’s a blast of focused energy firing on all cylinders with all 10 middle fingers extended. But their 1996 album, Let Them Eat The Monorchid, is the record you have to hear. Age and experience place the Monorchid miles above their post-punk contemporaries.
Hamley left in late 1997, but not before contributing to a second album’s worth of material. Cone followed, and the Monorchid dissolved, unable to replace its matchless team of guitarists. Who Put Out the Fire? appeared posthumously in the summer of ’98.